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Nicaragua’s Ortega strains US relations by expanding military ties with Russia | International

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With relations between Nicaragua and the United States at its lowest point in years, former Sandinista guerrilla and current president Daniel Ortega’s new accord with Russia has just added fuel to the fire. Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine kicked into high gear to publicize the Nicaraguan government’s recent announcement that it will begin receiving more Russian military personnel, ships, and aircraft starting July 1. Ortega’s regime has dubbed it “a military exchange, instruction, and training initiative to support humanitarian aid operations.” The announcement of this new Russian collaboration with Nicaragua follows Ortega’s defiance of the United States and the European Union when he supported Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Ortega’s apparent diplomatic strategy is to use such initiatives to alleviate his country’s economic pain caused by international isolation and sanctions.

Decree 10-2022 approved by the Ortega-controlled legislature authorizes Russian military forces to “patrol” Nicaragua’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts. It also invites 80 Russian military advisors to join an in-country exercise with the Nicaraguan Army’s Special Operations Command “to exchange experiences and conduct training in humanitarian aid operations. Another 50 Russian military advisors will work with the Nicaraguan Navy, Air Force, and Communications Corps to “exchange experiences and assist with communication operations on ships and aircraft in their fight against drug trafficking and transnational organized crime.” The decree authorizes Russian ships and aircraft to enter Nicaraguan territorial waters and airspace.

Nicaraguan political analyst Roberto Cajina said the torrent of propaganda emanating from the Kremlin after Decree 10-2020 was passed constitutes a veiled threat to the United States. Russian state television anchor Olga Skabeeva gave extensive coverage to Ortega’s initiative and said, “It’s time for Russia to flex its muscles near some US cities.” TASS, a Russian state-owned news agency also widely disseminated news of the military agreement with Nicaragua, while Sputnik, another Russian state-owned news agency headlined a recent report: “Nicaragua: military cooperation with Russia will strengthen national security.” The Kremlin later tried to tone down the rhetoric and Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova dismissed the collaboration with Nicaragua as a “routine operation.”

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega greets Vladimir Putin in Managua during the Russian president’s 2014 visit.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega greets Vladimir Putin in Managua during the Russian president’s 2014 visit.Alexei Nikolsky (AP)

Cajina said that the presence of foreign military personnel in Nicaragua is a normal part of a military exchange effort focused on training and support for humanitarian aid and the fight against organized crime. In fact, the recent decree authorizes the presence of Cuban, Mexican, Venezuelan, and Bolivian military forces in Nicaragua. But this is happening at time, said Cajina, when Russia has lost international support due to its invasion of Ukraine, and Ortega was conspicuously left off the invitation list to the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. Ortega’s exclusion from the summit was another US effort to further isolate a repressive regime that violates human rights. “Russia wants to put a little pressure on the United States and deflect attention away from the invasion of Ukraine,” said Cajina. “But Moscow doesn’t actually have the capacity to send arms to Nicaragua like it did in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. It’s just another war of words in Ortega’s long-running confrontation with the United States. A real Russian military presence in Nicaragua would trigger a vigorous response from the US, because the threat would extend beyond Central America to the entire continent.”

Alarm bells have already sounded throughout Central America. Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves expressed his apprehension to a US media outlet at the Summit of the Americas. “At this time, we have serious concerns with Nicaragua and about the news that President Daniel Ortega invited the Russian army to send troops and equipment. We have not had an army [in Costa Rica] since 1949, so imagine how we feel. We’re worried, and with good reason,” said Chaves. His fears are justified, considering that Ortega has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to destabilize the region. In the 1980s, President Ortega presided over a Sandinista-controlled government closely aligned with the Soviet-led socialist bloc that provided Nicaragua with substantial military aid. At the time, the US-financed “Contras” (Nicaraguan Resistance) were waging a war from its bases in Honduras to overthrow the Sandinista regime. The conflict produced a humanitarian crisis and exodus of Nicaraguan civilians that weighed heavily on Costa Rica.

It is unclear what Ortega expects from Putin. The two leaders have enjoyed a close relationship since 2008, when Ortega supported Russia’s annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. At the time, Ortega was under heavy US pressure following allegations of massive fraud by the Sandinista National Liberation Front in the country’s municipal elections. In 2014, Ortega again supported Russia when it occupied Crimea, and was widely mocked on social media for establishing a consulate in Crimea when Nicaragua had absolutely no interests in the region. Vladimir Putin returned the favor by visiting Nicaragua later that year. Ortega welcomed Putin with a warm hug, but perhaps expected more in return than just a pat on the back.

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega and the first lady, Rosario Murillo, visit Moscow in December 2008.
Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega and the first lady, Rosario Murillo, visit Moscow in December 2008. Misha Japaridze (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Nicaraguan government announced that Russia has funded a military training center to combat drug trafficking, and will provide aid to strengthen and modernize the Sandinista Army. Russia also granted Nicaragua US$26 million to address natural disasters. In 2016, Russia officially announced that it was sending Nicaragua an initial shipment of 20 T-72B tanks worth US$80 million. The Russian state-owned domestic news agency RIA Novosti stated that the Kremlin had already supplied Nicaragua with 12 ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft defense systems, two Mi-17V-5 helicopters, as well as a “shipment” of armored vehicles. Nicaragua has ordered four patrol boats from Russia, at a cost of approximately US$45 million. Other Russian aid to Nicaragua includes wheat shipments and buses to improve urban transportation in Managua.

Sergio Ramirez, the well-known Nicaraguan writer and winner of the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, now lives in exile in Spain. Ramirez, who was Ortega’s vice-president in the 1980s, scoffed at Moscow’s relationship with Ortega and told Nicaraguan digital magazine Divergentes that Russia “is not an effective ally for Ortega… because it is a paper tiger… that pretends to be a great superpower just because it has nuclear warheads. But if he [Putin] has to invest all of Russia’s resources in his war in Ukraine, what can he offer Ortega besides some buses that will break down in a year?” What then does Nicaragua gain from its relationship with Putin? “Practically nothing,” said Roberto Cajina. “Trade between Nicaragua and Russia is insignificant. In diplomatic terms, what Russia can offer Nicaragua has no great value in the global context. Nor does Moscow’s criticism of US sanctions against Nicaragua carry any weight.” But Daniel Ortega doggedly continues to stoke the flames of discord with the United States.

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Eduardo Zapateiro: Colombian army chief resigns to avoid appearing beside president-elect Petro at inauguration | International

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General Eduardo Zapateiro, the commander of the Colombian army, resigned on Tuesday to avoid appearing beside president-elect Gustavo Petro at his inauguration on August 7. “After 40 years in service, I bid farewell to the Colombian people, giving my heartfelt thanks to all my soldiers,” he announced.

Zapateiro, who comes from the hardline wing of the armed forces, has been a vocal opponent of the leftist leader. During the presidential election campaign, the army commander controversially spoke out against Petro on Twitter – a move that was condemned as unconstitutional. Incumbent President Iván Duque, however, defended Zapateiro, arguing that the general was sharing his point of view – not taking a political stand.

Zapateiro announced his retirement just one day after Petro told EL PAÍS that he planned to change the leadership of the armed forces. “This leadership was deeply imbued by the political line of the executive [of Iván Duque] now reaching the end of its term. But this path is unsustainable and turns our security forces into a victim, as they have been led to perpetrate grotesque violations of human rights. What we are proposing will make our security forces democratically stronger,” he said in the interview.

The Colombian general has often raised eyebrows with his behavior. Following the death of Jhon “Popeye” Jairo Velásquez, a henchman for drug lord Pablo Escobar who had killed dozens of people, Zapateiro sent his condolences to his family and said he was saddened by his loss. To this day, no one has explained why the general made these statements.

In Colombia, the government and the military have a complex relationship. The country has fought for decades against guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The ongoing armed struggle placed the military in a position of great power. Indeed until the 1990s, the armed forces controlled the Defense Ministry. As in many other countries, the Colombian armed forces are a conservative group that is highly suspicious of leftist ideas. The peace agreement, for example, that ended five decades of conflict with the FARC, divided Colombia’s troops. Zapateiro initially supported the accords, but over time, became an outspoken critic.

What kind of relationship Petro will form with the military remains to be seen. As a politician, he has been very critical of the army’s focus on targeting internal enemies. The Colombian armed forces have been fighting against guerrilla groups and drug gangs for decades. During this conflict, they have often overstepped their bounds and violated human rights.

In the early 2000s, a scandal broke in Colombia when it was revealed that military officers were carrying out summary executions of innocent civilians and listing them as guerrillas killed in combat. These so-called “false positives” took place in different regions of the country between 2002 and 2008 and were used as proof of performance by military units and to collect “kill fees” awarded by the government of former president Álvaro Uribe. A total of 6,402 innocent people are estimated to have been killed in these summary executions. Just a few months ago, several civilians also died in suspicious circumstances during an army operation in Putumayo.

With Petro elected as Colombia’s first leftist president in modern history, it was no longer tenable to have Zapeteiro leading the armed forces. The Colombian newspaper El Espectador published an editorial to that effect, with the headline: “Isn’t it time to retire, General Zapateiro?”

Petro aims to tackle corruption within the army, which he believes is home to extremist factions. “There are currents in the far right that must be eliminated. Some are talking openly about coups and things like that. But look, within the army there are no factions friendly to Petro, there are factions friendly to the Constitution,” Petro told EL PAÍS.

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Canada should focus on abortion access not legislation, advocates say | Global development

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Abortion advocates are warning that the recent US supreme court ruling overturning Roe v Wade will empower anti-choice groups in Canada to push for restricted access, making a settled matter appear controversial in a country where nearly 80% of people are pro-choice.

A key anti-choice strategy in Canada revolves around enacting abortion legislation – an idea that has been gaining traction amid the fallout of the US court ruling. There is currently no abortion law in Canada, making it the only country in the world where the procedure is totally free of legal restrictions.

“There’s a lot of talk right now about whether or not the Canadian government should pass a proactive law protecting our right to abortion – a pre-emptive strike, if you will. That would be a big mistake,” said Daphne Gilbert, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

Gilbert and other abortion advocates say that while enshrining abortion rights may sound progressive, the opposite is true: consolidating rules would make it easier for anti-choice legislators to retract abortion rights if ever they found themselves in a majority. Last year, 81 Conservative MPs (and one independent) voted for anti-choice legislation.

And while the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, promised Canadians after Roe that his government would “always stand up for your right to choose”, advocates argue that may not always be true.

That’s why the country should focus on entrenching people’s rights by expanding abortion access, said Gilbert.

Since it became legal in a 1988 supreme court ruling, abortion in Canada has been designated as a medical service like any other, on par with procedures like X-rays and blood tests. But that doesn’t make it easy to get – especially in remote, religious or conservative parts of the country.

In 2014, Sarah (who asked to remain anonymous) sought an abortion on Prince Edward Island (PEI) – a province of 30,000 that, at the time, did not have a single publicly operating abortion provider.

It took Sarah a month to finally secure a provider – five hours away, in another province. The trip incurred travel and lodging costs, but the procedure itself was covered by the healthcare authority.

“The idea that anybody has to travel to take care of something that you should be able to get done close to home – it’s not fine,” said Sarah. Abortion care only arrived on PEI in 2017, after activists sued the provincial government for acting unconstitutionally.

Although there is no federal law, each province’s medical college sets its own guidelines on abortion, including gestational age limits for use of the abortion pill.

Those guidelines are shaped by the skills and training available in each province, said Martha Paynter, an abortion care provider in Nova Scotia and the author of the new book Abortion to Abolition: Reproductive Health and Justice in Canada.

But there is also a political dimension to providing abortion care that prevents some doctors and nurse practitioners from taking it up.

“More people could be doing it than are doing it,” said Paynter. “We as educators – I’m a prof at a nursing school – have the responsibility to teach in every medical and nursing program how to do this care, and hardly [any school] does it.”

Paynter is the creator of the country’s first university abortion course, at Dalhousie University, which is open to students across medical, nursing and other health programs with the purpose of inspiring future health workers to integrate abortion access into primary care.

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists offers an online course to teach professionals how to prescribe and manage medical abortion.

But most students and healthcare professionals are not required to learn about how medication and surgical abortion work – and many choose to abstain because they are afraid to enter the political fray around abortion.

According to Gilbert, that means a lot of primary care providers stay wilfully uninformed.

“A lot of doctors just aren’t political people. They’re scientists, and they don’t see the politics behind some of their care,” she said.

Further complicating access is the fact that many Canadians are unaware that nurse practitioners in the country are permitted to prescribe the abortion pill and refer patients to surgical abortion providers – or that most patients can self-refer directly to an abortion provider.

Addressing these issues is critical to expanding existing access to medication and surgical abortion, said Paynter and Gilbert.

In 2017, Natalie (also a pseudonym) discovered she was pregnant while visiting her parents in a small town in northern Alberta. After one doctor at a local walk-in clinic told her abortion was murder, she demanded an appointment with a different doctor.

That doctor told her that there was no such thing as medical abortion. “He looked me in the face and said, ‘That doesn’t exist,’” she said.

Mifegymiso – otherwise known as the abortion pill – was approved by Health Canada in 2015, but had only recently hit the market when Natalie found herself at the doctor’s office.

“I know it exists. It’s literally the front page of the news,” she told him.

Still, she went away empty-handed. She was only able to get an abortion after returning to her home province of New Brunswick, where only three hospitals and one clinic provide abortion. Natalie went to the clinic, where she paid $800 for a surgical abortion – a cost incurred because the province refuses to pay for abortions performed outside of hospitals.

New Brunswick is currently being sued for its restriction of abortion.

Stories like those of Sarah and Natalie show how abortion remains inaccessible in Canada, despite its federal legal standing.

“Our greatest problems really come in terms of provinces and what they may do to restrict access to abortion in light of what I think is now going to be a really emboldened anti-choice movement,” said Gilbert.

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Missing child in Germany: German boy found alive after surviving eight days in sewer | International

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German police have found an eight-year-old boy who went missing from his home in Oldenburg, a city of 170,000 people in northwestern Germany. The child, named Joe, was discovered on Saturday in a sewer just 300 meters from his house. He had survived in the sewer for eight days while hundreds of officers and volunteers frantically searched the surface for clues to his whereabouts. “Eight-year-old Joe lives!” police in Oldenburg announced on Twitter.

The boy, who suffers from learning disabilities, disappeared on June 17 from the garden of his house. Police launched a large-scale search with drones, helicopters, sniffer dogs and dozens of officers, who were joined by hundreds of volunteers. As the days passed, a homicide team joined the investigation amid growing fears that Joe – who is only identified by his first name due to Germany’s privacy laws – could have been the victim of a violent crime. A witness claimed to have seen him in the company of an unidentified man and it was feared he may have been kidnapped.

“It was absolute luck,” said Stephan Klatte, the Oldenburg police spokesman, said of Joe’s discovery. A neighbor who was walking in the area raised the alarm when he heard “a whining noise” coming from the ground, just under a drain. When officers lifted the manhole cover, they found the boy, completely naked. He had no serious external injuries, but was dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia, for which he was taken to hospital for treatment. According to German media, he is recovering well. “If he hadn’t made a sound, or if no one had heard him, we might never have found him,” Klatte said.

In a statement, the police reported that they believed that Joe likely entered the rainwater drainage system through a sewer on the same day of his disappearance and “lost his bearings after walking several meters.” Police have ruled out any foul play in the incident.

On Sunday, the day after Joe was discovered, police commissioned a specialized company to inspect the sewage system with a robot equipped with a camera. The robot examined the sewer between the boy’s home and the place where he was found. It recorded several items of clothing, including what he was wearing when he disappeared, in a pipe about 60 centimeters in diameter that runs under one of the streets of the neighborhood where he lives with his parents. The robot found, for example, the child’s vest, 70 meters from the point of entry.

Officers found an entrance to a three-foot-wide drainage channel near the farm where he was last seen on the day of his disappearance. Authorities believe the boy entered the channel while playing. After 23 meters, the tunnel leads to another narrower plastic pipe and police think it is likely the eight-year-old continued down this path. Joe was eventually found about 290 meters from where he entered the sewer system.

Police believe that Joe became more and more disoriented until he could no longer find a way out. “A first statement from the child confirms this assumption,” said the statement, which does not provide more details about what he told officers. Investigators say they have not been able to question the boy in detail, as he remains in hospital. Nothing has been found to suggest that the child came to the surface in the eight days in which he was missing. In the statement, police asked that no questions about his state of health be made out of respect for him and his family.



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